Another human rights defender charged with a “crime.”

Within two weeks of releasing leading human rights defender Maryam Al Khawaja from jail the Bahrain authorities detained another. On September 30 Nabeel Rajab was taken into custody for allegedly insulting the Bahrain regime on twitter.

Rajab has been exposing human rights violations by the U.S. ally for many years and spent from mid-2012 to mid-2014 in prison on trumped-up charges. He’s hit a nerve again, tweeting that Bahrain’s security forces act as an ideological incubator for ISIS. Bahrain’s military and police are drawn almost exclusively from the Sunni sect, with the majority Shia population virtually shut out of the services. Rajab’s September 28 tweet came days after news of a Sunni Bahraini security official leaving his job to join ISIS.

There’s a Twitter campaign to send out the same tweet and then tweet that you did so with the hashtags  .


Many #Bahrain men who joined #terrorism & #ISIS came from security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator.

Let’s do this thing.

The lack of security force reform in Bahrain has been a source of political unrest in the kingdom for years, and although parts of the U.S. government have tried to push for human rights progress the messages from Washington have been inconsistent and contradictory. Bahrain is part of the military coalition fighting ISIS but its own history of violent sectarianism has been largely overlooked by the Obama Administration.

Rajab’s lawyer Jalila al Sayed told me “It’s hard to predict what will happen with this latest case against Nabeel, but there is a real chance he could face several more years in prison for his tweeting.”

Thanks, Obama administration, that’s a big help.

The core problem is that the U.S. government isn’t uncomfortable enough with its military ally’s flouting of the rule of law to invoke proper consequences. The State Department failed to publicly call for the release of Maryam Al Khawaja and has so far failed to publicly call for the release of Nabeel Rajab (Al Khawaja has now left Bahrain but legal charges against her remain). Without meaningful censure Bahrain’s repressive regime has few incentives to stop its crackdown on human rights activists.

Manama appears to have calculated correctly that Washington’s military priorities will trump its embarrassment on human rights, perhaps even more conclusively now Bahrain is part of the anti-ISIS effort. The State Department’s primarily reliance on private diplomacy with Bahrain clearly hasn’t made much headway on human rights and it needs to adopt another plan.

Well maybe millions of people on Twitter can embarrass both governments.


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